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  • When I was preparing for this talk, I went to search for a couple of quotes that I can share with you.

  • Good news, I found three that I particularly liked.

  • The first by Samuel Johnson, who said,

  • When making your choice in life, do not forget to live.”

  • The second by Aeschylus, who reminded us that,

  • Happiness is a choice that requires effort.”

  • And the third is one by Groucho Marx who said,

  • “I wouldn’t want to choose to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

  • Now, bad news, I didn’t know which one of these quotes to choose and share with you.

  • The sweet anxiety of choice.

  • In today’s times of post-industrial capitalism,

  • choice, together with individual freedom and the idea of self-making,

  • has been elevated to an ideal.

  • Now, together with this, we also have a belief in endless progress.

  • But the underside of this ideology has been an increase of anxiety,

  • feeling of guilt, feeling of being inadequate,

  • feeling that we are failing in our choices.

  • Sadly, this ideology of individual choice has prevented us to think about social changes.

  • It appears that this ideology was actually very efficient in pacifying us as political and social thinkers.

  • Instead of making social critique, we are more and more engaging in self-critique,

  • sometimes to the point of self-destruction.

  • Now, how come that ideology of choice is still so powerful,

  • even among people who have not many things to choose among?

  • How come that even people who are poor very much still identify with the idea of choice, the kind of rational idea of choice which we embrace?

  • Now, the ideology of choice is very successful in sort of opening for us

  • a space to think about some imagined future.

  • Let me give you an example.

  • My friend Manya, when she was a student at university in California,

  • was earning money by working for a car dealer.

  • Now, Manya, when she encountered the typical customer,

  • would debate with him about his life style, how much he wants to spend,

  • how many children he has, what does he need the car for?

  • They would usually come to a good conclusion what would be a perfect car.

  • Now, before Manya’s customer would go home and think things through,

  • she would say to him,

  • The car that you are buying now is perfect,

  • but in the few year’s time, when your kids will be already out of the house,

  • when you will have a little bit more money,

  • that other car will be ideal.

  • But what you are buying now is great.”

  • Now, the majority of Manya’s customers who came back the next day bought that other car,

  • the car they did not need, the car that cost far too much money.

  • Now, Manya became so successful in selling cars that soon she moved on to selling airplanes.

  • And knowing so much about the psychology of people

  • prepared her well for her current job, which is that of a psychoanalyst.

  • Now, why were Manya’s customers so irrational?

  • Manya’s success was that she was able to open in their heads an image of an idealized future,

  • an image of themselves when they are already more successful, freer.

  • And for them, choose that other car was as if they are coming closer to this ideal

  • in which it was as if Manya already saw them.

  • Now, we rarely make really totally rational choices.

  • Choices are influenced by our unconscious, by our community.

  • Were often choosing by guessing, what would other people think about our choice?

  • Also we are choosing by looking at what others are choosing.

  • Were also guessing what is socially acceptable choice.

  • Now, because of this, we actually even after we have already chosen, like bought a car,

  • endlessly read reviews about cars,

  • as if we still want to convince ourselves that we made the right choice.

  • Now, choices are anxiety-provoking.

  • They are linked to risks, losses.

  • They are highly unpredictable.

  • Now, because of this, people have now more and more problems that they are not choosing anything.

  • Not long ago, I was at a wedding reception.

  • And I met a young, beautiful woman who immediately started telling me about her anxiety over choice.

  • She said to me, “I needed one month to decide which dress to wear.”

  • Then she said, “For weeks I was researching which hotel to stay for this one night.

  • And now, I need to choose a sperm donor.”

  • I looked at this woman in shock.

  • Sperm donor? What’s the rush?”

  • She said, “I’m turning 40 at the end of this year,

  • and I’ve been so bad in choosing men in my life.”

  • Now choice, because it’s linked to risks, is anxiety-provoking.

  • And it was already the famous Danish philosopherren Kierkegaard

  • who pointed out that anxiety is linked to the possibility of possibility.

  • Now, we think today that we can prevent these risks.

  • We have endless market analysis,

  • projections of the future earnings.

  • Even with market, which is about chance, randomness, we think we can predict rationally where it’s going.

  • Now, chance is actually becoming very traumatic.

  • Last year, my friend Bernard Harcourt at the University of Chicago organized an event,

  • a conference on the idea of chance.

  • He and I were together on the panel, and just before delivering our papers,

  • we didn’t know each other’s papers, we decided to take chance seriously.

  • So we informed our audience that what they will just now hear will be a random paper,

  • a mixture of the two papers, which we didn’t know what you know, each was writing.

  • Now, we delivered the conference in such a way.

  • Bernard read his first paragraph.

  • I read my first paragraph.

  • Bernard read his second paragraph, I read my second paragraph,

  • in this way towards the end of our papers.

  • Now, you will be surprised that a majority of our audience

  • did not think that what they’d just listened was a complete random paper.

  • They couldn’t believe that speaking from the position of authority

  • like two professors we were, we would take you know, chance seriously.

  • They thought we prepared the paper together

  • and was just joking that it’s random.

  • Now, we live in times with a lot of information, big data,

  • a lot of knowledge about the insides of our body.

  • We decoded our genome.

  • We know about our brains more than before.

  • But surprisingly, people are more and more turning a blind eye in front of this knowledge.

  • Ignorance and denial are on the rise.

  • Now, in regard to current economic crisis,

  • we think that we will just wake up again and everything will be the same as before,

  • and no political or social changes are needed.

  • In regard to ecological crisis, we think nothing needs to be done just now,

  • or others need to act before us.

  • Or even when ecological crisis already happens, like the catastrophe in Fukushima,

  • often we have people living in the same environment with the same amount of information

  • and half of them will be anxious about radiation and half of them will ignore it.

  • Now, psychoanalysts know very well that people surprisingly don’t have passion for knowledge,

  • but passion for ignorance.

  • Now, what does that mean?

  • Let’s say when we are facing a life-threatening illness,

  • a lot of people don’t want to know that.

  • They rather prefer denying the illness, which is why it’s not so wise to inform them if they don’t ask.

  • Surprisingly, research shows that sometimes people who deny their illness live longer than those who are rationally choosing the best treatment.

  • Now, this ignorance, however, is not very helpful on the level of the social.

  • When were ignorant about where we are heading,

  • you know, a lot of social damage can be caused.

  • Now, on top of facing ignorance, were also facing today some kind of obviousness.

  • Now, it was French philosopher Louis Althusser who pointed out

  • that ideology functions in such a way that it creates a veil of obviousness.

  • Before we kind of do any social critique,

  • it’s necessary really to lift that veil of obviousness

  • and to think through a little bit differently.

  • If we go back to this ideology of individual, rational choice we often embrace,

  • it’s necessary precisely here to lift this obviousness

  • and to think a little bit differently.

  • Now for me, a question often is,

  • why we still embrace this idea of a self-made man on which capitalism relied from its beginning?

  • Why we think that we are really such masters of our lives

  • that we can rationally make the best ideal choices,

  • that we don’t accept losses and risks?

  • And for me, it’s very shocking to see sometime very poor people,

  • for example, not supporting the idea of the rich being taxed more.

  • Quite often here they still identify with a certain kind of a lottery mentality.

  • Okay, maybe they don’t think that they will make it in the future,

  • but maybe they think, my son might become the next Bill Gates.

  • And who would want to tax one’s son?

  • Or, a question for me is also, you know why would people who have no health insurance not embrace universal healthcare?

  • Sometimes they don’t embrace it, again identifying with the idea of choice, but they have nothing to choose from.

  • Now, Margaret Thatcher famously said,

  • that there is nothing like a society.

  • Society doesn’t exist.

  • It is only individuals and their families.

  • Sadly, this ideology still functions very well,

  • which is why people who are poor might feel ashamed for their poverty.

  • We might endlessly feel guilty that we are not making the right choices and that’s why we didn’t succeed.

  • We are anxious that we are not good enough.

  • That’s why we work very hard, long hours at the workplace

  • and equally long hours on remaking ourselves.

  • Now, when we are anxious over choices,

  • sometimes we easily give our power of choice away.

  • We identify with the guru who tells us what to do, self-help therapists,

  • or we embrace a totalitarian leader who appears to have no doubts about choices, who sort of knows.

  • Now, often people ask me,

  • What did you learn by studying choice?”

  • And there is an important message that I did learn.

  • When thinking about choices, I stopped taking choices too seriously, personally.

  • First, I realized a lot of choice I make is not rational.

  • It’s linked to my unconscious, my guesses of what others are choosing,

  • or what is a socially embraced choice.

  • I also embrace the idea that we should go beyond thinking about individual choices,

  • that it’s very important to rethink social choices,

  • since this ideology of individual choice has pacified us.

  • It really prevented us to think about social change.

  • We spend so much time choosing things for ourselves and barely reflect on communal choices we can make.

  • Now, we should not forget that choice is always linked to change.

  • We can make individual changes, but we can make social changes.

  • We can choose to have more wolves.

  • We can choose to change our environment to have more bees.

  • We can choose to have different rating agencies.

  • We can choose to control corporations instead of allowing corporations controlling us.

  • We have a possibility to make changes.

  • Now, I started with a quote from Samuel Johnson,

  • who said that when we make choice in life, we shouldn’t forget to live.

  • Finally, you can see I did have a choice to choose one of the three quotes with which I wanted to start my lecture.

  • I did have a choice, such as nations, as people,

  • we have choices too to rethink in what kind of society we want to live in the future.

  • Thank you.

When I was preparing for this talk, I went to search for a couple of quotes that I can share with you.

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B1 UK TED choice ideology choosing choose embrace

【TED】Renata Salecl: Our unhealthy obsession with choice (Renata Salecl: Our unhealthy obsession with choice)

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    Go Tutor posted on 2014/10/12
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